100 Greatest Science Inventions of All Time

By Kendall Haven | Go to book overview

Photocopier_____________

Year of Invention: 1938

What Is It? A machine that creates an exact copy of an original document or
picture.

Who Invented It? Chester Carlson (in Queens, New York)


Why Is This Invention One of the 100 Greatest?

The typewriter (1867) and the telephone (1876) changed business practices in America. The next machine to revolutionize business was the copier (xerography), 60 years later. The copier quickly became an indispensable service of modern life. We make hundreds of millions of copies of tens of thousands of pages every day. Copy rooms, copy centers, and copy shops abound.


History of the Invention

What Did People Do Before?

For thousands of years, copies were made by hand. Monks were famous for laboring for long months and even years to copy a single book. Two problems existed with hand copying: it was slow, and errors tended to creep into hand-copied documents.

The printing press (1454) made it possible to create multiple originals, but not to make a copy of an existing document. Early in the eighteenth century, copy-like machines and processes existed. President Thomas Jefferson owned one—even though it was smelly, time consuming, and created poor-quality copies on a tissue-thin paper that had to be read from the back (otherwise it appeared backwards). In 1887 Thomas Edison invented the mimeograph, a smelly duplication process that was used extensively in schools.


How Was Photocopying Invented?

Even though he was a university graduate with a degree in physics, the only job 26-year-old Chester Carlson could find in the depression year of 1933 was as a clerk for an electrical company, P. R. Mallory, analyzing patent forms and papers. Carlson’s work involved making copies of masses of technical diagrams and documents—always by hand.

Carlson decided there had to be a better way—both to earn a living and to make copies. He had always wanted to be an inventor and decided that a better copying system would be

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